Please be welcome to the Hollywood garden cocktail party filled with tinsel and splendor. You can feel the luxury in the air, even more when wrapped in stylish black and white tones. Crowd of VIP people in shades just hanging around in a summer light atmosphere. Looks like a movie scene from an old piece of European cinematography. But wait… oh, is it? Is it George Clooney and his empty Martini glass. The most popular Italian alcoholic beverages company has already been hiring Hollywood stars to ads taking place in their native market. This ad of the most beautiful drink showcases many beautiful faces and recalls of Bond’s cult moment for a drink before things get messy. Watching very typical Italian style of the ad we were wondering if the classy flavor will please women from two distant cultures of Russia and USA. To do so we arranged a measure of emotional reactions in form of brainwaves (via electroencephalograph) of their beautiful citizens.
There is such a thing — and it’s the drink. Ready and strongly visible (as the unique colored item in the black & white scenery) catches attention of American ladies and evoke only positive feelings. They disappear as soon as the actress wins the race, gets the drink and surprisingly passes her tasty trophy to Clooney. This unusual situation in a gentlemen’s world seems to pass by without any echo in Russian responses, but American ladies notice this social faux pas. Those women strongly reject the idea of picking up lady’s drink instead of picking up its beautiful owner.
How to make impression on American women’s
American women are not mad fans of the commercial nor the actor himself. They send negative wave of emotions as soon as they notice there’s the famous actor in the mob, sniffing his drink. At the same time Russian ladies respond very Positively and it persists even when a funny expression on man’s face disappears. So there is a woman and there is a man. Their glasses are empty and so the game begins. Our guests follow the chasing game between the couple with their sight and mind, but only Russian women seem to enjoy it significantly. The slow seductive moves of the woman and the way both characters try to reach the drink before the other doesn’t engage the American women emotionally. On the other side we are repeatedly facing positive response in Russian feelings. They specifically are amused by elaborated and comic facial expression of the actor. They say if you want to conquer a woman’s heart, you have to make her laugh — it seems that George is familiar to this words of wisdom.
Managers rarely conduct a thorough analysis of programs accompanying the TV ads they create. They usually invest media money intuitively in those shows they believe their target audiences watch. Yet, the program’s environment can strengthen a positive perception of a spot or have a discouraging effect, even if it is viewed by the same audience or during the same prime-time slot. For example, an ad aired during a commercial break of an action movie (“Munich” by Steven Spielberg) was ignored by the audience’s brain (n=44) while the same spot played during the romantic comedy (“Love Actually” by Richard Curtis) was perceived more attentively. The difference in this case was related to the amygdala (a little almond shaped structure located in subcortical part of the brain) which became active during violent scenes in “Munich” and then, automatically, during a scene with erotic innuendos in the ad. Meanwhile, the promoted product was neglected by the viewers’ prefrontal cortex, which is activated when a stimulus is emotionally engaging or relevant. However, during the comedy, viewers’ brains “perceived” the product scenes as very relevant. Traditional qualitative tests confirmed that all the brand influence indices were increased during the comedy, not the action movie.
In another R&D study we tested a product from the FMCG category.
The ad was placed during three different television programs. We used a total of nine TV program environments: three talk shows, three TV series and three police docudramas all selected from the top three TV channels, again at the same prime time of airing. We measured neuro reactions of 396 respondents as well as their behavioral choices, a shelf test in which subjects were asked to choose between the advertised and the competitor’s brand. Out of the people who watched the ad accompanied by the TV shows 27% chose the advertised product, during the TV series – 37% and during the police docudramas – 41%. It was in full concordance with neuro reactions, the highest prefrontal activation occurred during docudramas, the lowest in talk shows. It seems that for this type of product, a bloody and violent environment and not the comedy (as many might guess) seemed optimal. In turn the product category described earlier — was strengthened by sweet romance programming. As one can see there are no good or bad programming contexts, it all depends on the nature of a product category. Routine neuro tests would help analyze basic categories of TV programs and plot them on a matrix of basic product categories. This pioneering effort would enable advertisers to get the most out of a single GRP, neuro GRP we’d call it. Before competitors start to copy, and before there is an extra media charge for it.
An inappropriately selected message can provoke implicit reactions that are detrimental to the advertised brand and benefit… its competitors. This problem is well illustrated by the example of one of the FMCG market leaders. The company conducted studies on the new extension of its antiperspirant line. In the opinion of the female target audience the product was effective but they also believed that it could dry out their skin. The company decided to enrich the antiperspirant with a moisturizing ingredient and communicate this fact in media. An agency created an attractive TV ad with the main theme based on a contradiction between two seemingly mutually exclusive characteristics: the ability to keep the skin dry and moisturized at the same time. The sales results were below expectations.
The company could not explain this phenomenon and decided to submit the commercial for neuro testing. The study involved only loyal users of the product (n=120). Half of them (the control group) were asked to evaluate the antiperspirant and a competitor’s product, while the other half was given the same task but had to watch the commercial first. On Likert’s scale from -2 to +2 the control group gave the product 1.3 points and the competitor’s product 0.3 points. Those women who watched the commercial first rated the product at only 0.9 points and the competitor’s product at 0.2. The commercial was apparently responsible for a decrease of 9.5 percentage points for their own product and an increase by 10.9 percentage points for the competitor’s product! It was the findings of a behavioral shelf-test, however, that were the most striking. The participants could decide whether to accept money, choose their favourite product or the competitor’s offer. 52% of the women in the control group chose the antiperspirant, 28% took the opportunity to test the competitor’s product and the remaining 20% took cash. Within the group that had watched the ad these proportions were almost entirely reversed! The number of times the participants chose their own product fell by 9.1 pp., and for the competitor’s product it increased by 24.4 pp.! Their ad did not help them but their closest competitors! Comparing the participants’ brainwave records helped explain this most surprising puzzle. We discovered that the group of women whose brains were activated at the time when the product’s packaging was shown also chose the product during the shelf test. Meanwhile, the group that focused on the information highlighting the need to moisturize skin chose the product belonging to the competitor whose advertising communication has been built around this attribute for years. This case study shows the dangers of inconsiderate use of a brand benefit which, at the subconscious level, belongs to a different brand. The company recalled its product from the market, yet had it decided to use neuro tests at an earlier stage, it might have avoided a costly mistake.
Academic research in psychology has shown that the correlation between a self-reported attitude and actual behavior is around 0.3. Although we say we will start a diet or exercise, we often fail to actually do so. Even though we claim that we like a product, when faced with a choice, we reach for the competing brand. We say that an advertisement is interesting and that we feel encouraged to buy the product, and yet we fail to do so when shopping, and conversely – we might claim an ad is boring or irritating, yet, we buy the advertised product anyway.
Academic neuroscientific research has established that every conscious act is preceded by a neurophysiological reaction. That is why neuro tests predict behavior better than verbal reports. To make sure people really intend to do something, it is wise to check their neuro reactions. Verbal declarations of respondents must be backed-up with neuro. If not, they remain nothing else but wishful thinking.
The fact that neuro predicts purchase behavior better than verbal declarations is well illustrated by a test we have conducted together with one of the leading global FMCG companies. For that we invited 66 housewives, who were shown an ad, and subsequently asked to share their impressions about the product. The commercial, following a simple “problem-solution” pattern, showed the story of a woman who sees that her kitchen got dirty, and, without much hesitation, decides to clean it with the advertised item. Using it, she quickly tackles the problem, whereas regular products prove to be ineffective. In the participants’ opinion the film was uninteresting, boring, predictable and did not stand out from the commercial clutter. In other words, it did not ignite any positive emotions. While watching the ad, women were connected to EEG and GSR tools to record their biological reactions. Thanks to neuro, it turned out that the key scenes (showing the product and the slogan) were perceived by their brains to be most relevant and engaging (the prefrontal cortex, responsible for all the key decisions, showed unusually high activity), and the commercial’s ending evoked an outright explosion of positive emotions. After the experiment, we discovered that we had been given for testing, one of the most effective commercials sales-wise in the company’s history.
This example shows that considering only verbalized information is insufficient because the answer often lies in the subconscious. This is the reason why consumers do not always choose the advertised product, even if they initially say it is interesting, compelling and encourages them to make a purchase. Another observation is that for product categories driven by negative motivation (“I buy it because I have to”) – the tested product belonged to that category – an ad does not necessarily have to score highly on liking and recall measures, yet, can still be very effective.